Centre forward Billy Whitehurst is one of the best-known, say some most infamous, some say most notorious, footballers in Hull City’s history. A striker renowned for his power, strength and no-nonsense style, which sometimes bordered on the violent, Whitehurst is often cited by those who came up against him as one of the hardest opponents of his era. Bill was also a real character in the dressing room, someone who was able to motivate those around him with a mixture of sickening pranks and outright intimidation. He was a unique figure in Hull City’s history – and he ended up being a damn good footballer.
It all started from modest beginnings. William Whitehurst was born in Thurnscoe, a South Yorkshire village between Barnsley and Doncaster that dates back to Roman times though its most prominent era came when it was home to communities serving South Yorkshire coal mines in the 20th century. Work underground was on the decline when Billy came of age in the late 1970s and he worked as a bricklayer for Doncaster Council while playing non-league football with Retford Town. In March 1980 he joined Bridlington Trinity and five months later he joined Mexborough Town. In October 1980 Bill was selected to play for a Midland League XI against a Royal Air Force side, a match that attracted a number of Football League scouts. Whitehurst signed for Hull City a couple of weeks later as manager Mike Smith constructed a squad designed to lift the Tigers out of the Third Division. Bill was immediately handed his debut and was evidently a powerful man but didn’t possess all the ball skills expected of a professional player. It wasn’t until February 1981 that Whitehurst, by now on the fringes of first team action, came off the bench to score his first City goal against Blackpool. Bill returned to the first team towards the end of the season but the Tigers’ poor form resulting in relegation to the Fourth Division.
Smith stayed on as manager but the combination of generous spending on transfer fees and relegation to the fourth tier made for a potent financial mix. As Smith’s Tigers battled to establish themselves in a new League, financial meltdown beckoned and the resources assembled by Smith were stretched thinly. Whitehurst was first choice centre forward whose goals were irregular but whose hard work led to chances for others in the team, notably Tynesider Les Mutrie. Whitehurst’s improvement was down to the coaching and cajoling of the man who above all others could tame Billy Whitehurst – legendary club record goalscorer Chris Chilton, who was part of City’s coaching staff following a spell living in South Africa. Chilton made it his business to take the rough and ready Whitehurst, keep all his power and energy and teach him how to become a proper centre forward – Chillo’s work with Bill went on to define the playing career of the latter and the coaching career of the former.
By March 1982 Smith was sacked, the Tigers went bust and administrators were picking over the remains of Hull City to cut costs and frame the club as a going concern. Seven players on the books, including Whitehurst, were identified to have their contracts cancelled until Gordon Taylor from the Professional Players’ Association intervened. The Hull City seven stayed on the club’s books – the PFA may not of always done favours for Hull City, but that action was to prove pivotal in the Tigers’ rapid revival over the next four years with Billy Whitehurst at the spearhead.
The 1982/83 season heralded a new dawn with Scarborough businessman Don Robinson installed as new owner and former Scarborough manager Colin Appleton given the manager’s job at Boothferry Park. Appleton started Billy up front for most of the season and while the big man scored only five goals, his power and link up play saw the Tigers shoot up the League table and earn promotion. Whitehurst kept his place as City were back in the Third Division for the 1983/84 season and he opended the season with two goals in a 4-1 demolition of Burnley. The hard work on the training ground was now bearing fruit and Whitehurst had scored nine goals by Christmas as City were again in the promotion race. Untimately the Tigers fell short by the narrowest margin and Appleton immediately jumped ship to Swansea, while Billy’s goals dried up as he managed to score just twice in the second half of the season.
The 1984/85 season saw a new manager take over in the shape of Brian Horton, and Billy Whitehurst’s lack of goals might have seen him a candidate for replacement by the new manager. Instead, Horton invested heavily in Whitehurst and chose him whenever available – Billy rewarded this faith with an absolutely tremendous season in front of goal. Eleven goals before Christmas helped the Tigers into the top 3 of the Third Division and as the season wore on Whitehurst grew as a footballer, enhancing his fitness and continuing to score goals. He ended the season with 24 strikes to his name, plus his first career hattrick against Orient in April 1985 and a second promotion win under his belt. Whitehurst again made the step up in the 1985/86 season and by late November had scored 12 times in 24 starts, form that attracted attention from the top division.
In December 1985 Whitehurst joined First Division side Newcastle United for £232,000, a record fee received by Hull City at the time. Whitehurst went straight into the Magpies’ first team but he fialed to score in his first eight starts and was dropped. He returned in March 1986 and netted seven goals in 13 starts, his first top flight goal coming in a 3-1 win against Ipswich. He also scored Newcastle’s only goal in a 8-1 defeat to West Ham late in the season that was notable for injuries leading to the losing side fielding three different goalkeepers, each of which Hammers’ defender Alvin Martin scored past to compile a unique hattrick. Whitehurst started the 1986/87 season up front for Newcastle but his goals had dried up again. In October 1986 after 7 goals in 31 appearances for Newcastle, he transferred to Division One rivals Oxford United.
At Oxford Whitehurst led the line for the first team but he managed only two league goals in six months, plus two more in the Full Members’ Cup. Bill opened the 1987/88 season with two goals for Oxford against Portsmouth but they proved to be his last goals for the club and by February 1988, after 6 goals in 49 appearances for the Manor Ground side, he was on the move again to Second Division side Reading. Just seven months at Reading saw Bill make 19 appearances and score 8 goals for a side relegated to the Third Division. In September 1988 he returned to the Second Division and signed for Sunderland but three months later, after 3 goals in 18 appearances, Billy was heading back to Hull City as makeweight in the transfer of Tony Norman to the Wearside club.
Bill’s second spell at Hull City paired him with another experienced goalscorer Keith Edwards, who was also embarking on a second spell playing for the Tigers. Whitehurst’s return was greeted by graffitti at Boothferry Park that proclaimed “Rambo Billy” was back (this was the work not of an intrepid fan, but of publicity-savvy chairman Don Robinson) and the big man scored on his second debut on New Years Eve against Ipswich. Six wins in seven games for Eddie Gray’s side signalled that Whitehurst and Edwards had clicked, but just one win in the last 19 matches saw City fade away to the bottom half of the Second Division table and Gray lose his job. Colin Appleton returned as City manager for the start of the 1989/90 season and Whitehurst was used more sparingly. When poor results led to Appleton’s rapid dismissal and replacement by Stan Ternent, a clash of characters quickly led to Whitehurst’s removal from first team action and sale to Sheffield United in February 1990. Nine months and 23 appearances for the Blades yielded just two goals, and with Billy’s power waning due to knee injuries he saw out his Football League career with a season and half at Doncaster Rovers (4 goals in 26 appearances) and a loan spell at Crewe Alexandra (11 appearances). He spent another year playing in the Yorkshire non-league scene as well as having short spells in Australia, Northern Ireland and Hong Kong. Ending his playing days in 1993, Whitehurst made 453 senior appearances and scored 99 times – and he gave 100% effort in every one of those games.
After football Whitehurst was landlord for several years at the Cricketers Arms, a pub located adjacent to Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane ground. He also worked at Drax Power Station and the BP chemicals plant in East Hull. He eventually settled into pub ownership at Ackworth near Pontefract, a few miles north of his Thurnscoe birthplace.
Date/Place of Birth: 10 June 1959, Thurnscoe
Hull City First Game: 25 October 1980, Gillingham A (Division Three), 21 years, 137 days old
Hull City Final Game: 20 January 1990, West Ham United A (Division Two), 30 years, 224 days old
Retford Town (1978-1980), Bridlington Trinity (1980), Mexborough Town (1980), Hull City (1980-1985), Newcastle United (1985-1986), Oxford United (1986-1988), Reading (1988), Sunderland (1988), Hull City (1988-1990), Sheffield United (1990-1991), Stoke City (1990, loan), Doncaster Rovers (1991-1992), Crewe Alexandra (1992, loan), St George Budapest (1992), Hatfield Main (1992), Stafford Rangers (1992), Mossley (1992), South China (1992-1993), Glentoran (1993), Frickley Athletic (1993)
Hull City Record
Career: 271 apps, 69 goalsBilly Whitehurst
|1981/82||34 (2)||6||5 (0)||2||1 (1)||0||-||-||3 (0)||1|
|1982/83||28 (8)||3||2 (0)||0||2 (0)||1||-||-||3 (0)||1|
|1983/84||36 (1)||10||2 (0)||1||2 (0)||0||-||-||5 (0)||0|
|1984/85||40 (0)||20||1 (0)||0||3 (0)||3||-||-||2 (0)||1|
|1985/86||18 (0)||7||-||-||3 (0)||2||-||-||3 (0)||3|
|1988/89||21 (0)||5||3 (0)||2||-||-||-||-||-||-|
|1989/90||15 (0)||0||0 (1)||0||-||-||-||-||-||-|